1996 Toyota Tercel DX from North America


Excellent buy!


New timing belt - 2010.

General Comments:

Great find for only $200. Driven back and forth between Vancouver and Calgary all the time for a land surveying company - hence the high KM.

No rust or dents, smooth/quiet engine.

Perfect little car and should last for years to come.

Great on gas as well!! Decent speakers.

Passed Aircare first time after sitting in the drive for 2 years.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 16th May, 2010

17th Dec 2011, 17:46

I've had 4 Toyota Tercels; 1983, 1984, and now 1996, and I'm here to tell you they are without a doubt one of the best vehicles ever produced. I had 275000 miles on the 3 when I let them go, and the 1996 I have now has 240,000 miles on it, and the service I get from it, I won't be surprised if it turns to 300,000 miles.

Sure would like to find another cheap Tercel, as I have never been financially secure enough to buy a newer Toyota. If I could find a Tercel cheap enough with 160,000 plus miles on it, I wouldn't let the high miles stop me from trying to buy it. Can't beat a Toyota, period.

1996 Toyota Tercel from North America


Not bad for the price


Cracked head gasket at 154K.

Brakes replaced at 150K.

Radiator replaced at 154K (probably unnecessary).

General Comments:

This car was a dream for about 2 years, then things started to go wrong. Still, my experience seems to the exception to the rule - plus I got 2 years out of a $1200 car -- not too shabby.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 30th November, 2009

1996 Toyota Tercel Sport 1.5 from North America


Lean, green, gas cost fighting machine!


Needed new tires - and rear drums.

General Comments:

I bought this car when gas hit 1.50

I thought I would hate it - but deal with it.

I paid 2300 for it - and put a set of new tires and rear drums on it.

I *love* this car.

It's slow. Passing other vehicles must be calculated before execution. It has no bells and whistles.

Did I mention I love this car?

It saved me 300 dollars a MONTH on gas compared to my 3.8L V6 Oldsmobile.

THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS a month in fuel savings.

Besides the money I have saved - I find it actually pleasant to drive.

1.) The manual transmission is solid

2.) Fuel economy = excellent

3.) Cheap to operate

4.) Tires are dirt cheap

5.) Parts aren't that expensive - and you need less of them.

One thing to note: The valve seals tend to go over the years. They begin to burn oil.

Mine isn't burning a drop yet. Fingers crossed.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 16th January, 2009

1996 Toyota Tercel Base 1.5L 5EFE Gasoline from North America


Basic, but Solid and Reliable


A bit of back-story is in order first. I bought this car as a "fixer-upper". Although the previous owner neglected it in terms of maintenance, the basics are great (more on all this in "comments"). I'm not sure which part failed when, as I've had it only a few thousand miles, but to give you an idea of what happened after ~125k miles of neglect, here's what's gone wrong:

What's been fixed-

ECU (engine computer)

EGR valve solenoid.

Front O2 sensor.

Brakes (and I mean everything - master cylinder, pads, shoes, rotors, drums, hardware, etc.)

Complete tuneup (plugs, wires, coil pack boots, PCV valve)

Timing belt & water pump.

Coolant flush/fill.

Cylinder head, intake manifold, & EGR valve cleaned.

Engine, trans gear oil, & power steering fluid flush/fill.

Lubrication of all body joints, latches, and locks.

What's next -

Struts/shocks & springs.

Valve lash adjustment (yes, Tercels do NOT have hydraulic lifters)

Headlight adjusters & mounting brackets.

Cruise control module.

Stereo wiring repair (the front speakers don't work)

Nothing else is wrong with the car.

General Comments:

Most of the car was all original when I bought it, including some things that shouldn't be - like shocks, brakes, and spark plug wires. No routine maintenance other than spark plugs and oil changes had been done by the last owner; they even put in the wrong spark plugs. But, the body & paint are great, the interior is like new, and the engine & trans act like they have 1/3 their actual miles. In other words, it looks & runs like a new car, which is what I meant about the basics - it's been a great "fixer-upper" investment. But anyway, on to actual comments...

The interior space in front is more than adequate. I'm a big guy (over 6 feet & 200lbs) and the driving position is very comfortable; the seats are supportive as well, especially in the lower back area. Outward visibility is excellent. The front seats could use a center armrest, though.

The back seat is a bit tight. I wouldn't be comfortable back there if I was sitting behind myself, but it's not so tight as to be labeled fit only for children and groceries. Four average-sized adults could be comfortable in this car - maybe not for a road trip, but at least for a few hours.

The trunk is surprisingly large, especially considering how tiny this car is. Two full-size suitcases will easily fit, with some room to spare.

The air conditioning works great (which I didn't expect from such a bare-bones car). The heat is great as well. Defroster function is only adequate in extremely humid weather, but otherwise is excellent.

The controls are well laid-out, although the manual mirrors could use remote levers. They are truly manual: reach out and touch your mirror to adjust. The shifter isn't the tightest in the world, but it's more precise than the ones in many newer front wheel drive cars I've driven.

I have some minor complaints about the interior. One is regarding the manual mirrors - the passenger-side mirror doesn't adjust out far enough to eliminate the blind spot on that side. And both side-view mirrors are rather small.

Another is the lack of a tachometer - a darn near unforgivable omission in a vehicle with manual trans. A tach isn't absolutely required for in-town driving, but it'd be useful for avoiding overrevs when merging or pulling away from a toll booth.

Another is the lack of fold-down rear seats; the came in some Tercels, but not this one. A handy feature to have, but not sorely missed.

The last interior complaint is that the rear windows are fixed - it'd be nice if they popped out on hinges as in some other coupes (or better yet, if they rolled down like they used to in 2 door cars years ago).

Acceleration is somewhat impressive for a car with 95hp, but not surprising given the extremely light curb weight (1900lbs for the stripped base model that I have). It's not fast, but it's nowhere near slow. Merging on the highway is easy, as is cruising at 80mph. It only feels underpowered when accelerating from just off idle. The engine isn't overly loud, but the sound isn't exactly gratifying.

Braking, like acceleration, is somewhat better than adequate. It stops as well as any other car I've driven, and better than some. The brake pedal is firm, and I haven't gotten the brakes to fade yet. I'll reserve comments on handling until after I fix the suspension, although I will say that this car feels very tight. It's certainly not a rattlebox.

I've been very happy with the cost of ownership. Everything I've fixed has stayed fixed, which is not something I can say for most of the cars I've owned. No new problems have popped up. It's great on gas - I average 32mpg in all-city driving, with a worst-ever of 30mpg. Average for mixed city/highway has been 37mpg. I haven't used it on a long trip yet, so I have no straight highway mileage figures.

Overall, I'm quite happy with this vehicle. I'll give another update in a year's time.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 19th January, 2008

2nd Feb 2009, 10:21

Original poster update:

So, it's been a little over a year. I've fixed everything else on the "to-do list" from my original post, except for 2 things. I checked the valve lash, and only one valve was out of spec, and that only.001" - so I didn't bother to go any further than checking. I did replace the valve cover gasket as long as I had it opened up anyway; incidentally, the engine was incredibly clean inside.

The cruise control turned out to be an aftermarket dealer-installed system. I only just tracked down the manufacturer, and have yet to find a shop that is willing to troubleshoot an aftermarket cruise system (I'm good with the greasy stuff, but not so much with electronics).

The clutch appears to have been replaced at least once before I bought it, and still shows no sign of slippage. However, when it's cold outside, and the vehicle hasn't warmed up yet, it chatters when starting from a stop.

The headlight adjusters turned out to be frozen, so I replaced the whole assemblies (quite cheap, $27 each). My only complaint is that there doesn't seem to be enough upward adjustment. The high-beams are fine, but the low beams aren't much better than fog lights.

Handling is quite nice now that the springs & struts are done. I went with a mild aftermarket performance setup as long as all the original stuff was trashed anyway. While the ride's a little flinty on bad pavement, it's smooth otherwise and very tight, with little roll & dive.

The only problem that has cropped up since I bought the car is that my left front wheel bearing is beginning to make some noise on tight turns. When it comes time to replace it, I'm going to replace the CV axle on that side as well, since the whole mess will have to be disassembled anyway.

Everything I've fixed has stayed fixed. I also have more accurate fuel economy numbers. Worst city mpg: 28, best city mpg: 35, average is 33mpg. Average mixed city/highway mpg is 40mpg. The one and only time I ran an entire tank on the highway (at a steady 70mph) the mileage worked out to 44mpg.

20th Aug 2009, 11:56

Excellent comment.

25th Aug 2009, 17:50

My 97 Tercel is shaking on the highway, could that be just the wheel alignment? The steering wheel shakes and the pretty much the whole car.

23rd Sep 2009, 07:59

Yes, it could be the alignment. Or, one of your front tires might be out of balance. It might also mean worn suspension or steering components, or a problem with a CV joint or wheel bearing. It could pose a safety problem, so I'd recommend taking the car to a mechanic you trust.

26th Jan 2010, 13:28

Original poster update:

145k miles, & another year bites the dust. That cruise control is a lost cause - nobody wants to work on it & I can't fix it, so I live without it. Axles & bearings are done. Everything fixed has still stayed fixed. I'm still quite happy with this car.

Only two issues have come up. The first is that the original radiator has developed a pinhole leak (141k miles) - replacing it & the hoses will be one of my projects this spring.

The other is that the engine started pinging when run at low-mid rpm under heavy throttle (began ~138k miles). The problem hasn't worsened, but there has been an associated small drop in fuel economy. I pulled the spark plugs & it looks like cylinder #4 is getting hot, which would explain the pinging. Now I need to find out why.

I've been feeding it 93 octane to stop the detonation until I can chase down the cause. I've already ruled out vacuum leaks or a cracked intake manifold... If a compression test doesn't show me something on that cylinder, I'm going to replace its coil pack. If that doesn't work, it's time to start replacing sensors.

Til next year...

10th Sep 2014, 21:21

Perhaps your valves need adjustment?